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Modern Transportation for the Virginias
2012 Annual Meeting Highlights
VARP held its annual meeting on
John Edwards, Norfolk Southerns General Director of Passenger Policy, spoke about Norfolk Southerns relationship with rail passenger operators. In Virginia, he said, you are blessed with a state organization [the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation] that has a very good
He mentioned some projects that Norfolk Southern is participating in that will help passenger trains serving the Virginias:
Edwards said he is responsible for numerous operations in which Norfolk Southern hosts passenger trains. When rail passenger operators bring him a proposal to operate passenger trains on Norfolk Southern tracks, the company has four principles for cooperation and agreements:
When a new passenger operation is considered, he said, all aspects of Norfolk Southerns business are considered: engineering, law, real estate, taxes, etc. In the few years he has filled the passenger policy position, Norfolk Southerns attitude toward passenger trains has changed, he said. The company will accept passenger trains on a line when it can be done right.
What about adding passenger service to currently unused lines? Norfolk Southern preserves low-density lines when they have freight potential, he said, noting that some trackage in the Shenandoah Valley has had service discontinued, but Norfolk Southern has not abandoned the track.
Thelma Drake said that the Commonwealth of Virginia needs a constitutional amendment to allow tax law changes that would encourage railroads to preserve unused lines and said she hopes her department will hear from any railroad considering a line abandonment before a decision is made.
Thelma Drake, Director of the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation, also spoke to her departments relationship with the freight railroads: We are a thorn in the side of the railroads, she said, yet they bend over backwards to help us. For example, Norfolk Southern is charging the state no access fees for the first three years of operating the Lynchburg train (started in 2010), and railroads in Virginia have overpaid their matching share of Rail Enhancement Funds, contributing 44% rather than the required 30%. CSX paid part of the states match of federal funds for environmental impact analysis of high-speed upgrades to the Richmond-Washington line.
The Lynchburg train, she said, has enjoyed triple the ridership predicted by Amtrak, so it has not required any state operating subsidy yet. The commonwealth is looking ahead to possible rail service to Roanoke, currently served by a bus that connects to the Lynchburg train. Drake wants the bus service added to Amtraks reservation system so that the state can see just how many people are riding the train via the bus from Roanoke. The state is also assisting Norfolk Southern with track improvements in the Roanoke area that would help accommodate extension of the Lynchburg train to Roanoke.
Amtrak projects that the Norfolk service will also run in the black. The predawn departure time from Norfolk will accommodate military passengers she said, while acknowledging that a possible
In the future, Virginia expects to sponsor three round trips between Norfolk and the Northeast Corridor, and federal high-speed rail funds would pay for resurrection of a Virginian Railway line from Norfolk to Suffolk and upgrading it to
However, the funding for future intercity rail service in Virginia is uncertain, said Drake. Until a federal formula is decided, establishing states share of responsibility for funding regional services, Virginia cant plan for other projects (Charlottesville-Richmond service has been discussed but not planned, she said in answer to a question). Other problems are delaying progress too: the federal government approved a high speed grant to design
In answer to other questions, Drake said that her department works extensively with all the transit agencies in Virginia but does not fund operations the way it does for a few intercity trains, which are considered a statewide rather than local service. She said that a dedicated bus service between downtown Richmond and the Staples Mill Road Amtrak station in Henrico County would make sense, but it would be up to Greater Richmond Transit to provide it, or Amtrak could establish a connecting bussomething she doesnt think is likely. Extension of the Tide light rail system from Norfolk to Virginia Beach should have been part of the project from the beginning, she said, but right now the Federal Transit Administration is asking that any applications for the extension be put on hold until one years worth of ridership data is available; in the six months since the Tide started running, she said, it carried almost double the number of projected riders.
Randy Wright, President of the Hampton Roads Public Transportation Alliance, said that it would take
The mindset is changing locally and nationally in favor of public transportation, said Wright, and he emphasized the importance of groups such as VARP and the Hampton Roads Public Transportation Alliance and the work of individuals. Nobody brings change alone, he said, but there are things that dont happen because of what one person didnt do.
Elections. Jim Bayley, Allan Carpenter, Jim Churchill, Steve Dunham, Bill Forster, Herbert Richwine, Dick Peacock, and Michael Testerman were unanimously reelected to the board of directors. Steve Dunham was unanimously reelected chairman of the board. Testerman, Churchill, Peacock, Richwine, and Carpenter agreed to continue serving in their posts as, respectively, president, executive vice president, secretary, treasurer, and assistant treasurer.